Notes from the underground

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As the MTA misery index reaches new highs, anguished straphangers take to Twitter — but #Don’tWorrySupervisionIsAware. A day in the life of subway tweets.


  • On the subway, June 2017. Photo: Andy Atzert, via flickr

  • Subway crowd. Photo: Mussi Katz, via flickr

It reads like the descent into the nine circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno. Actually, it may be more harrowing. It’s a day in the life of the New York City subway told in narrative form.

There are hundreds of co-authors. They chronicle the subterranean torments they endure. And their work is as searing and visceral as any Florentine poet’s epic of sinful and wicked ways.

The medium? Twitter, of course. The handle? @NYCTSubway. The date? June 15, one day after Mayor Bill de Blasio left his SUV cocoon and ventured into the subway system for the first time in two months.

The methodology? Simple: We read roughly 375 tweets covering the 24-hour period. Half were posted by anguished straphangers, half by unruffled MTA staffers who gamely minimized the horrors, offering rote reassurances that “supervision” had been notified.

“The downtown 6/uptown BDFM elevator 329 at Broadway/Lafayette has a puddle of urine inside,” wrote @OneHotProcessor, whose real name is Sara Tabor, sled hockey player and novice ukuleleist.

The boilerplate response from @NYCTSubway: “Thanks for bringing this to our attention, supervision has been made aware.”

Five miles away, @CiaranGBoyle – “husband, father, American” – was encountering a grotesquerie of his own, tweeting, “Can someone power wash/clean the 110th st station 2&3 train, it’s always filthy and stinks of excrement.”

“Regrets for any unpleasant conditions, we’ve made supervision aware of this matter,” the MTA wrote back.

Meanwhile, a Q/B escalator was out all day, and as @NateFeder, the handle for a product manager and CPA, posted, “That’s 100+ steps for a non-able person to walk up. When will it be fixed?”

A reasonable question. No reasonable answer. Only “regrets for any inconvenience.” Scant comfort for a rider with a disability. But happily, “supervision” is “aware of this matter.”

“Hey @MTA/@NYCTSubway. Nb 6, car 1675 leaving 33rd st. NO AC. Adults, children and babies SWEATING in here. How can we remedy?” wrote @Chef¬_Gregorio.

The MTA offered no remedy, just “regrets” for the unpleasantness, a “thank you” for the report, and yes, “supervision” knows all about it.

It goes on and on: “What fresh hell is ‘BIE’ and why is it causing a 10-minute trip to take five times that long?” posted @mrb370, aka Maria Rocha-Buschel (also a contributor to this paper).

While BIE is a potentially grave condition, the MTA tweet was positively cheery. “Hi, that stands for Brakes in Emergency, meaning the train’s brakes were activated,” the post said.

The dispatches from the underground should be required reading for Governor Andrew Cuomo, who disingenuously claimed he “doesn’t “control” the MTA. In fact, he names six of its 14 board members, more than anyone else, and exercises control by handpicking a chairman and CEO, both serving at his sufferance.

They should also be propped up on an exercise bike in a Brooklyn gym for perusal by de Blasio, who sanctimoniously said it would be “cheap symbolism” to fight global warming by forsaking his chauffeured convoy and taking public transit to his Park Slope workouts. Not much empathy there.

Surely by now Cuomo and de Blasio have heard that the MTA-macro-misery index has never been higher, and that 70,000-plus delays afflict the system each month, a mega-leap from 28,000 in 2012.

Maybe, they’ve even learned that a typical subway car now breaks down every 120,000 miles. Five years ago, it was 200,000 miles.

But there’s also a micro-misery index told in the tweets. It, too, is unconscionably high. A governor who doesn’t understand that betrays his constituents. A mayor who can’t feel the pain of his flock disrespects it. A spat between the two harms everyone else.

What follows are seven simple questions to which @NYCTSubway provided zero satisfactory answers. Can Cuomo and de Blasio do better?

“Since when does the MTA care about schedules in the first place?” asked @JaimieDeth.

Inquired @LadyOfSpain17, “Whereeeee is the uptown B/D at 7th Ave and why do I pay you people to get me nowhere at all?”

Posted @urbanutopist, “Waiting time between A trains: 20 mins. 100s of people waiting! What’s up with your unacceptable service?”

“Wouldn’t you know it, it’s hotter on r train car 5632 than it is outside. Seriously, why can’t these trains use AC?” queried @dpittelli.

Asked @Morton411, “Do R trains just disappear in the tunnel? Is there a Bermuda Triangle underground we don’t know about? #wehateyou.”

“What the heck did the conductor of my Manhattan-bound F train just say?” demanded @sanspoint.

The final outraged tweet goes to @jonauyeung, who in a fragment of a word summed up what everybody else was driving at: “wtf?????”

That of course is the ultimate question for Cuomo and de Blasio. Is supervision really aware?

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